To Understand is to Stand Among

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I love the word “understand.”

It’s a very, very old English word, dating back to a time when the word “under” did not mean “beneath” but meant “in the middle of” or “among.” To understand a place, you must stand in the midst of it, looking around at everything there and being a part of it. To understand a people, you must stand among them, not outside looking in. It’s a beautiful word.

Our word “comprehend” is from the Latin. The verb, back when the Romans had hold of it, literally meant to seize or take something completely, to grasp hold of it and pull it to you. Prehendere is the same verb used for seizing criminals; it also becomes our English word “apprehend.” Over time, by metaphor, comprehendere came to mean seizing knowledge, approaching something that’s outside of you and taking it by force, taking ownership of it, taking it into your mind. A very Roman idea. To comprehend someone or something that’s outside of us, we approach them, take them, capture them, and own them in our mind. They are now a known quantity. In this way, the empire desires to “comprehend” the world.

But the Anglo-Saxon verb understandan meant … to stand in the middle of things and look around and see what’s there, which you can do because you’re in it and a part of it.

I really love the word “understand.”

We need more understanding in the world.

Stant Litore

(A shameless plug: If you would like more language nerding from me, please get the book Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, because you will really enjoy it.

You can find it here:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP)

Things I’m Excited For

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It’s stunningly expensive (and probably should be, as it represents twenty years of work), but it’s also exciting; Robert Alter’s new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English is scholarly and brings a lot more accuracy to the table than many existing translations: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BN5HWWX

What I am eager for that has not happened just yet is a full Hebrew Bible translation from a translator who is a woman or from a committee of women. As we saw when Marcia Falk translated the Song of Songs, when Anne Carson translated Sappho, and when Emily Wilson translated the Odyssey, centuries of male or majority-male translation committees can miss some pretty big things. (I am sure the notion that men sometimes miss “obvious” things will come as no surprise to any woman reading this post.) So I eagerly await the day when the number of biblical translators who are women grows.

Meanwhile, I am excited to dig into Alter’s translation as soon as I can afford a copy or secure one from the library. (Fortunately, many individual books or sets of books like the Torah or the Psalms are already available as individual volumes.) I want to see especially his treatment of the poetic texts.

For those who share either my interest in the Bible or my interest in language nerdery, I just wanted to share the news that this is out!

Stant Litore

Triceratops Traveling in Vast Herds, Vast

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Things I learned in the past year:

1. Triceratops traveled across the continent in majestic herds of hundreds of thousands, like wildebeest or bison, a flowing ocean of hide and horn;

2. There was once a species of crocodile that could gallop 40mph, and they snacked on dinosaurs.

3. In Finnish, poronkusema is a unit of distance referred to in some rural areas. It literally means “reindeer piss” and it describes the distance a reindeer can travel without urinating in the snow. The space between blotches of yellow snow is roughly six miles.

There. These are things you know now.

Also, come learn from my books. For dinosaurs, go for Nyota’s Tyrannosaur; for language nerdiness, go for Lives of Unforgetting.

(Get the books. Get the books. Get the books.)

Oh yeah, and:

4. Pumpkin toadlets (a species of tiny frog in Brazil) have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. That is also a thing you know now.

Stant Litore

About that Gorgeous Cover

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People have been curious about the gorgeous cover of Lives of Unforgetting, the new book. The cover design is by Roberto Calas, and the art is by The Rustic Vegan, used with his permission; his photograph makes me think of being welcomed to a lovely meal with people who have stories to share that may not be the stories I expect. Thank you for joining me at the table! Make sure to check out the artist’s work on Instagram: www.instagram.com/rustic.vegan – it will make you both delighted and (I think) hungry.

And please get a copy of my book. I will be delighted if you read it and share word of it with others who would be interested. Lives of Unforgetting is here:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

New Book from Stant Litore: Lives of Unforgetting

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I am delighted to announce the release of a new book: Lives of Unforgetting, subtitled “What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, And A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure.”

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

The ancient Greek word for “truth” means unconcealing or unforgetting. Yet today many ideas and stories that were once critical to how early Christians understood, practiced, and defended their faith often remain “hidden in plain sight” in our Bibles. These ideas are concealed from us by the distance between languages, between eras, and between cultures—yet they are so worth unconcealing and unforgetting.

In Lives of Unforgetting, discover:

  • The forgotten women who co-founded Christianity
  • Whether the first-century church thought there was a hell
  • What happens when you realize that in Greek, faith is a verb
  • Why gender in the Bible is more complicated than we think
  • Which concepts our modern tradition often takes for granted that would have been alien to the original readers (like homophobia)

We have also forgotten that to read the Bible is to receive an invitation to adventure—to encounter the impossible, to move mountains, to walk on water. Instead, we have been taught to read the Bible tamely, to make no choices, to risk no questioning of our tradition. What would happen if we took the adventure? If we readers walked out into the wilderness toward God, leaving home far behind? If we stepped out of the boat of our received tradition, out onto the crashing waves?

Let’s find out.

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Keeping Momentum in a Troubled Time

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On my mind:

Makes me sad: The global extinction crisis.
Makes me mad: The senseless cruelty of our border crisis.
Makes me glad: Cirdan learning words. Learn, little guy, learn! Learn all the things.
Makes me rad: Gladiators riding T-Rexes.
Makes me hope a tad: Kindness. Like when your kid is in the hospital and a friend is planning to bring dinner and they show up with like a carload of food. Just … kindness.

If I can hold all five in my hands, sad/mad/glad/rad/tad, I can keep moving. I can take action, neither spending my energy in passive outrage nor hoarding my energy in passive apathy.

If I can hold all five in my hands, if I can be both angry and kind, then I can keep moving.

Stant Litore

“The Excellence of the Ladies”

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In ancient days women were able to do
extraordinary things to impress the world
by their excellence in arms (to name but two,
I offer Camilla and Harpalyce, who hurled
spears and wielded swords). And not a few
were followers of the Muses and uncurled
their scrolls as Sappho did with uneven lines,
and Corinna, and their light forever shines.

Women have achieved in every art
and craft the highest distinction, and their fame
is great indeed. They’re strong and they are smart.
Without them history couldn’t have been the same.
I rather think it is envy on men’s part
that keeps concealed the honor and acclaim
they have deserved. If their work is not taught in schools,
it is because men are jealous–or fools.

In our own age, fair women of talent and
worth are everywhere and deserve that pen
and paper record their prowess and their grand
achievements, so that in the future, when
people study our times they will understand
the excellence of the ladies.

– Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso Canto XX,
Published in Ferrara, Italy in 1516.

502 years ago.

The lines above are translated by David R. Slavitt.